1) Plan your dress to go with your sight-seeing!
When visiting a church or a cathedral, make sure you wear appropriate attire. Knees and shoulders covered, for both men and women! Many places have signs posted asking visitors not to enter wearing shorts or sleeveless tops and in some places you will not be allowed to enter; so plan your dress to go with your sight-seeing or have a little vest in your bag.
Also do pack comfortable shoes. The majority of city centers are best enjoyed walking around but the uneven historical cobblestone streets can make it difficult. Leave those fashionable heels for a nice evening out!
2) Don’t rely on credit cards only
Even if it is getting more and more accepted, in Italy there are still many places that do not take credit cards. Therefore don’t forget to always have some cash or stop at an ATM.
Many small family-run restaurants and shops, bed and breakfasts and outdoor markets require cash payments or only accept credit card if the total is over a certain amount. American Express is not always accepted or there could be a surcharge that is added to the bill.
Traveler’s checks are rarely used for getting cash in Italy and if you do find a place to change them, you are likely to pay a big fee.
3) Get day-passes if you plan to use public transport
If you plan on using public transport to move around the bigger cities, look into buying a 1 (or multiple) day pass, it will enable you to get on and off public transport when and where you wish. Tickets can be bought at the larger stations or at most of the tobacco/newspaper shops but not on board.
And if you take a regional train, don’t forget to validate your ticket before you get on.
If you want to take a taxi, remember you cannot hail one on the street, you will have to call or go to the taxi stand.
4) Buy your tickets for top sights and museums in advance
During high season the most important sights get really busy and it would be a pity to waste your time standing in line for an hour or two or miss out completely.
Buy your tickets in advance for some of Italy’s top attractions like: The Last Supper in Milan, the Doges Palace and St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Vatican Museum and Coliseum in Rome, Uffizi and Accademia Galaries in Florence.
But do not overplan, leave enough time to wonder around and enjoy breathing in the local atmosphere, some of the best and most unexpected places can be seen while getting lost.
5) Don’t order latte!
Latte in Italian means milk! If you order a “latte” it is very likely that you will end up with a glass of milk.
There are numerous varieties on how Italians drink their coffee but you are probably best off ordering a “Cappuccino”, if you want coffee with milk, an “Espresso” if you want the real Italian coffee or a “Caffè Americano” if you prefer the less strong version.
Keep in mind that in many places there is a surcharge if you sit at a table so if you just want a quick coffee, do as the Italians do and stand at the counter.
6) Food: when in Rome do as the Romans do….try to eat local!
Italy is famous for their great and varied food culture and food is definitely an extremely important part of Italian life!
While in some occasions a quick panino or tramezzino is a great option, the Italians do like to sit down to thoroughly enjoy a proper lunch and dinner.
Every region has its own specialties and for the best culinary experience really try to stick to local food: Pizza is widely available all over Italy but actually originates from Naples so the best pizza ever you will definitely eat there!
In Milan you will find the best risotto alla Milanese (with saffron), Genoa is for pesto, Bologna for tortellini, ravioli and bolognese sauce. The best spaghetti alla carbonara and all’amatriciana are served in Rome. When in Florence you cannot miss the Bistecca alla Fiorentina (T-bone steak). Fantastic fish all around the coast line and polenta, mushrooms and a large variety of salami and other cold cuts in the mountains and countryside.
Local dishes are of course always accompanied by local wines. Remember that in Italy you won’t get refills of sodas or soft drinks and a lot of times you might have to ask for ice.
Lunch is served between 12.30 and 2.30 pm and Dinner between 7.30 and 9.30 pm, most restaurants don’t open before that time and some do close the kitchen at 9.30 pm. Best to make a reservation in advance.
“Fettucine Alfredo” and “Spaghetti with meatballs” don’t exist in Italy. You will also never find pasta with chicken. Pasta is considered a first course, fish or meat a second course and vegetables and potatoes are a side dish, often to be ordered separately.
When eating with Italians, the menu will most likely have multiple courses: starting off with a series of appetizers followed by a pasta dish (or two), then the main course and finally a desert… leave some space for the next dish, you certainly won’t leave the table hungry.
Tip if you are happy with the service!
Tips are always welcomed but remember wait staff, bartenders, taxi drivers do get paid for doing their jobs and the American custom of tipping between 10% and 20% it is not expected.
Round up the bill or leave some additional change, if you have received a good service it is nice to leave a sign of appreciation.
8) When you decide to Drive in Italy
To drive in Italy, you must be over 18 and in possession of a valid driver’s license. If you are from one of the EU member states your license is valid for driving in Italy. Are you from outside of the EU it is best to check with the rental company whether or not you require an International Drivers Permit, in some cases your national drivers license together with your passport is sufficient.
Just as a reminder: Keep right and overtake on the left. Headlights must be used on the motorway also during daytime.
Pay attention for the limited traffic zones, the ZTL (zona a traffico limitato), it is off limits for everybody without a permit. The historical centers are usually a limited traffic area and they are clearly marked. Cameras are posted at the entrance to a ZTL, taking photos of license plates as cars enter and you will receive a fine if you enter without permission. You can receive these tickets in the mail even six months or a year later, often through your rental car company. Do ask your hotel for information if it is located in a limited traffic zone.
While having a GPS for driving is certainly very useful, however, like everywhere, it is not a good idea to rely only on the GPS. Also it is common in Italy that several towns have the same name, just they can be in different regions and very far from where you want to be. So do keep a map handy.
Looking for some more travel advice to Italy? contact me firstname.lastname@example.org